Bingo and the Value of 20 Quarters

I found a quarter in the street this week.  Holding the twenty-five-cent piece in my hands flooded my mind with a sweet memory — the kind of recollection that produces a smile and a heartwarming reminder of the value of giving.

It was in 2014, while playing bingo at a Nursing Home, that I discovered the wisdom of the old axiom — it is more blessed to give than to receive. Who would have expected that this teachable moment would come from a 95-year-old lady named Eileen playing bingo? Certainly not me.

My parish at the time had several ministries, near seventy in all. Varied were the opportunities to serve those in need through groups like the Jail Ministry, Meals on Wheels, a homeless ministry, and even an evangelistic outreach.  Hey, we can’t let the Jehovah Witnesses have all the fun.

While I had been involved with many of these ministries, I decided in 2012 to give up one Friday night a month to do one more. For several years, multiple parish teams visited local nursing homes and engaged them in a simple, fun activity — bingo, to be specific. A cynic might chuckle at someone giving up a weekend night to play bingo with a bunch of hard-hearing, sight-impaired, and sometimes memory-challenged elderly men and women. But while I may have started out with the notion I was helping them have a little fun, I soon discovered it worked both ways.

As we walked into the downtown Conyers nursing home one January Friday evening, many of the residents had already gathered in anticipation of the night’s festivities. Soon a parade of wheelchairs came down the hall a few minutes before 7 pm, gathering around the tables in the dining area and picking up their bingo cards.

This particular night was my night to call the numbers. Each senior could play as many cards as they wanted, with most electing for two. Volunteers watched and assisted those who missed a number or covered the wrong one. Our custom was to play two games. The first game was played with each player winning two quarters when they “bingo-ed.” The first game concluded with the first cover-all, and that winner received four quarters. 

Eileen was a 95-year-old lady who always sat immediately to the right of the one calling the game. I liked Eileen. She reminded me of my paternal grandmother. “Spunky” could have been her middle name.  When I called the numbers as I did that Friday, she and I usually engaged in a friendly back-and-forth teasing banter. She was one sharp lady. But her poor eyesight made it difficult for her to read the cards despite the large 2 inch high numbers. She solved that problem by memorizing the numbers and using the same two cards every month. Despite the randomness of the bingo balls that popped up, she always voiced her displeasure when she was slow to bingo, making sure the caller — that would be me — knew it had to be my fault she had yet to bingo. On those occasions when she was quick to bingo, I jokingly admonished her not to spend her quarters all in one place.

But that Friday night was her night to shine. Not only did she win the cover-all for the first game, but she also did it twice in our extended play of the second game. Her total winnings amounted to five dollars or 20 quarters. With her face beaming at the handful of silver, you would have thought she had won the lottery.

At the night’s conclusion, I could not resist offering one final quip to Eileen, fully expecting a sharp retort in return.  But instead of her usual clever comeback, she explained what she did with her winnings each month. Her answer humbled me. She donated all her winnings to Wells for Hope, a Christian mission in Africa that provides clean water to villages that have none. I was speechless. Here we were, several Christians trying to bring a little light fun to these 80 and 90-year-old folks only to be reminded by this 95-year-old walking testimonial of the value of 20 quarters. 

I was there to serve Eileen and her Nursing Home neighbors.  However, it was I who left with an unexpected blessing and encouragement of my own. 

Whether finding a quarter in my pocket, under a cushion, or laying on the street, if I ever doubt what to do with that quarter, I only have to ask myself, “What would Eileen do?” 

I already know.

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